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PM Lee Hsien Loong sues blogger, Leong Sze Hian for defamation over Facebook share

It is now public knowledge that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is suing veteran Singaporean blogger, Leong Sze Hian for defamation over a Facebook share he made on his Facebook profile, on 7 Nov.

The article which Leong shared was an article by Malaysian online news media, TheCoverage.my. It claimed that editor-in-chief of investigative journalism platform Sarawak Report (SR) Ms Clare Rewcastle had mentioned Singapore as "one of the key investigation targets, alongside Switzerland and United States" in the 1MDB scandal during an interview with Malaysian media.

The article was written based on what States Times Review (STR) wrote, entitled, "Lee Hsien Loong becomes 1MDB’s key investigation target", which was published on 5 Nov.

The claim by STR was rebutted by SR, calling it "misleading" and "erroneous," and made a request for STR to "correct the false claim."

TOC understands that Leong was served a letter of demand by the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) on 10 Nov, to take down the Facebook share within six hours, saying that the content is against the Internet Code of Conduct. Leong is understood to have complied with IMDA's demand, by taking the post down.

TOC had asked around and understand from other netizens that they were not served with the same letter from IMDA despite sharing the same article which Leong did.

On 12 Nov, a letter of demand was served to Leong's residence while he was not around. The letter from Drew &Napier demanded Leong to make a public apology and compensate PM Lee for damages.

The letter wrote, "Those allegations are false and baseless and constitute a very serious libel against our client, and disparage and impugn his character, credit and integrity," PM Lee's lawyers, led by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh and added that it was clear that Leong had published the post "maliciously and to damage our client".

The Straits Times reported that the court documents claimed that the offending words in the article, "meant and were understood to mean that the Plaintiff corruptly used his position as Prime Minister to help Mr Najib Razak launder 1MDB's billions".

It further states that as a separate and distinct libel, the offending words in Mr Leong's Facebook post "meant and were understood to mean that the Plaintiff was complicit in criminal activity relating to 1MDB".

Together, these words "are false and baseless and were calculated to disparage and impugn the Plaintiff in his office as the Prime Minister", PM Lee's lawyers said.

However, TOC had seen the offending Facebook post before it was removed and note that the article was shared without any captions. Meaning Leong did not include any comments of his own other than sharing the STR article.

In response to media queries, Ms Chang Li Lin, the press secretary to the Prime Minister, confirmed that PM Lee had commenced legal proceedings against Leong for defamation, and said that the matter is in the hands of PM Lee's lawyers.

"Mr Lee reserves the right to take legal action against other parties who similarly defame him," she added.

In 2014, PM Lee sued Roy Ngerng for defamation after the blogger made references to PM Lee against the accused leaders of City Harvest Church. Ngerng was subsequently ordered to pay Mr Lee $150,000 in damages after he apologised to him as according to PM Lee's demand.

Correction: The article that Leong had shared was from TheCoverage.my and not States Times Review.